Archive for October 2011
Isn’t the weather fucking marvellous. (This is intentionally not typefaced in Times New Ironic Bold, genuinely the weather’s effect on a person is quietly humbling). Laying in bed listening to the wind and rain batter the glass that’s protecting the the sanctuary of my room from those harsh elements. For a short moment my mind is transported back a mere 2 weeks; to sitting in shorts, sinking a few beers, in the sun, marinading steak and searing it over hot coals. British summer so late in the year was fucking marvellous too, but now the weather has flipped on us I look forward to wrapping up and going for walks on crisp mornings, or curling up with a favourite person while the rain hits that impenetrable window.
Being able to hear the weather from the comfortable sanctity of a very welcome bed provides a time of simple contemplation of the events of the last week. A reticent thoughtfulness that usually overwhelms when I’m reminded in no uncertain terms of how very close to the unprejudiced aggression of nature we all lie on a daily basis.
Although a frequently-repeated cliche, reminding oneself to be thankful for what you have, whether through luck or hard work, is something I continue to do on a regular basis. To think back over the last seven days and consider what you’re thankful for, maybe something you’ve changed, completed, started, read, heard, said… whatever. Even if you can’t think of anything then it is still an exercise worthy of a few minutes of your time – in fact especially so in this case if only to prevent yourself being in the same position in another seven days time.
By far the two most important new things I’ve done over the last seven days are to watch Stephen Fry’s wonderful ‘Uses and Abuses’ episode of Planet Word on BBC iPlayer and to buy Lowkey’s fantastic new album ‘Soundtrack to the Struggle’.
Warning – both contain explicit language and views that might help you consider things differently
Stephen Fry presents a documentary style programme that, in part, makes the case that swearing has a prolific and fundamental use in human society and at a deeply personal level. The section of the programme with Brain Blessed is pretty fucking funny and yet deeply enlightening! The idea that swearing is not only acceptable but probably necessary is big enough, but the suggestion that swearing is only useful so long as it remains unacceptable and taboo was just brilliant. Brain Blessed’s overuse of what are usually taboo words has caused them to lose all of their potency, and purpose, for him anyway. The emphasis, in this series, on language as not only a social tool for communication but also as a deeply personal subjective experience for each of us, makes it a programme more than worth donating an hour a week to.
The latter item is something I’ve waited for in anticipation for the last month. Having spent some time catching up on Lowkey’s music on YouTube I’ve been looking forward to getting a hold of his new work; and the 1.5 hour (26 track) album doesn’t disappoint. Every track is brimming with poetic and topical literary references, naming his enemies and targets without doubt or uncertainty he sets out his case beautifully. While I can’t bring myself to agree with everything he says nor every point he makes, it’s clear where he’s coming from and not until I’ve given this gritty, aggressive and yet carefully crafted work at least a few more listens will I (nor should I) comment on content.
If someone can only stomach the most simple of concepts and finds any form dialectics more than worth the effort to digest then get them a copy of Steps’ new album (I speak to them indirectly as I can only assume they’re not reading this blog) – however, if you’re tough enough to have your views challenged or even to change your view after argument and debate then please give Soundtrack to the Struggle a listen and think carefully about what you don’t know before responding. As you always should.
The content sounded interesting and being an average person who takes a keen interest in the future of the human race (and other small issues like that) knowing how the next generation are being educated, I believe, is of paramount importance. In this vein I apprehensively attended, feeling like I was stepping outside of my comfort zone into territories unknown.
It was a rather enlightening experience. I did some pre-event research of course and saw that the event was advertised as being supported by no less than 5 Muslim organisations. So perhaps I should have been a little more prepared for the primarily Muslim demographic in the audience.
Now the presentation, run by Antonia Tully, was advertised as a meeting for parents to express concerns about sexualisation of their children in schools, specifically pertaining to sex education in primary schools. The advertisement as a meeting however was false, this was indeed a presentation, a one sided presentation, after which there could be no ambiguity in what the audience should believe.
The other side of the argument was not represented either by Ms Tully nor by an additional guest speaker (she was the only speaker) – perhaps a primary school teacher would have been able to balance out the evening?
A glaring detail was that a primarily Muslim audience was being addressed. Now my opinions about organised religion as a whole aside, I fully concede that many of the sincere and pious members of almost every religion are indeed brilliant, caring and loving people who have every right to their faith and I would not only accept that but would indeed defend it. Our rights to our personal beliefs, to our personal faith and to religious freedom is just as much involved as our rights to freedom of speech, thought and expression. I admit that I do not know whether Muslim groups invited SPUC to present here or whether SPUC is targeting Muslim communities specifically to exploit their religious beliefs about sex. I sincerely hope the latter is not the case, I really do, that would be a very slippery move indeed.
I observed during the presentation a nasty insinuation being made; a stranger showing these primary school resources to your child would constitute paedophilia, but school teachers are protected from prosecution in this case by legislation. This was rather sickening. The idea that primary school teachers can get away with acts that would be considered paedophilia outside of school would be deeply offensive to all primary school teachers that I have ever met. Trained and caring professionals who are far more aware of the law and of the vulnerability of children than most. Primary school teachers take the extremely sensitive issue of teaching sex to young children very seriously and the subtle implications raised during this presentation were disgraceful.
The conclusion of the evening was that the top 3 resources for primary sex education in this country are sexualising young children. Parents were told to approach their children’s school in an open and communicative manner and, if one of the top 3 is being taught, ask them to change it (at this point no alternative teaching resource was suggested). If the school refuses to change their teaching resource then you should withdraw your child from sex education.
I could say more and may well do one day. I’ll leave the reader to draw conclusions from this point on.
Why Mention It?
I’ll readily admit that I’m not a teacher nor am I debating legislation, nor am I a school governor. I have a vested interest in the education system due to my being human and that’s where it ends I’m afraid. I’m no expert and will leave the discussion of technical points to other more experienced and qualified parties.
I mention it because the BHA may well make some noise about this at a national level and it is absolutely critical to me that this debate is held publicly and fairly with the relevant experts present. I fully support the work of bringing this to the public’s attention and will, without hesitation nor conceit, put my name to my actions and to the words I’ve written in support of the BHA’s stance.
If anything I’ve written or done is offensive to the Muslim community who were the audience at this presentation then I can only sincerely apologise and hope that is accepted by the individuals and by the whole on the basis that I meant no ill intent toward you.
The scene is one that takes little effort to imagine. An empty grassland in the dead of night lit brightly by the beautiful glowing moon beaming down, reflections shimmering on the nearby lake. Stillness tempered by a feeling of nervous anticipation as you walk through this unnerving landscape. Your eyes are wandering over the horizon while also straining to see round the next corner attempting to feel out the unknown landscape that you’re navigating.
Then in the distance a fire, that unmistakable dance of the flames shines out amongst the moonlit field, silhouetted by the occasional figure. As you approach you see other figures close by. Some moving, some as still as the night around them. As you draw closer still you see the the stationary figures remain in place, and their circular formation gives you a feeling of an ancient power or a sacred ground.
As you approach the stone circle with the people moving around the flames an eerie sense of tradition carried down through the millennia overwhelms and something innate within you surfaces. As your deeply rooted tribalism gives rise to a sense of belonging, of warmth and of protection the spiritual notion of something deeply human and animal tells you this will be a beautiful night.
Well, that’s what I both imagined and hoped for anyway as I approached the Pagan gathering beneath the full moon this evening. Alas that was not the feeling that I encountered on my approach, there was no sense of awe or deep belonging, nor a sense of a connected oneness with nature. There was certainly some lovely, warm and welcoming people, and there was a fire albeit gasping for energy and life. As for the rocks, well yes, a 25 year old stone circle.
The Order Of Proceedings
With a meeting like this and in order to keep this post short and pithy I must necessarily be summary, so please excuse my blunt tone.
The opening of the circle involved a spoken prayer to the North, East, South and West, addressing each direction and each of the four elements in turn. The open circle was quite a beautiful thing though not for any reason to do with Pagan ritual nor spiritual enlightenment. There was an introduction by each member of the circle followed by a mutual hug of everyone in the circle, not a traditional start apparently but suggested as a reminder that everyone needs a hug sometimes. A wonderful sentiment.
Thereafter some members stepped forward and told a story or spoke about whatever they felt. This included a story read by one member of the group about the love formed between an Ivy plant and an Oak tree.
Finally the meeting concluded with the sharing of cake and drinking of mead, a delightful idea and one which I could very well get used to. Then, of course, the circle needed to be closed which was simply wishing farewell to the directions and elements in reverse order.
I am sure that this is a much misunderstood faith, one to which there is more than meets the eye and, though it may be one without dogma or specific life rules, one that can help enhance a person’s spirituality nonetheless. The trouble is I have no idea if that’s true, I have no more a clue about Paganism now than in the hours before the meeting or on the walk through the moonlit field on my approach.
To be sure, the people at the meeting were extremely sincere, jovial and loving people, each and every one of them it seems to me was a testament to the diverse breadth of human kindness and solidarity. Though there were serious conversations about magic – actual magic – and people that believed in clairevoyance, reincarnation, reiki and real Gods. I at least don’t doubt on one hand the integrity nor the candor of those present.
The way the meeting progressed and flowed was indeed indicative that there was no pre-defined order of proceedings. It was held by an obviously nervous young lady, who despite being inexperienced in conducting these meetings took up the mantle well. While the meeting lacked structure the overall feeling was one of great positivity. Though I felt nothing of the spiritual nor the transcendent that I was hoping for, I certainly gained subjective, empirical evidence of the kindness of human nature, and in this case I am quite sure that it is not the indoctrination of an organised religion that was bringing out the love in these people.
I do hope that any Pagans reading this are not offended. It may be the case that the best thing I have to say about Paganism after tonight’s brief encounter is that the people are nice, but in fact that really is a great thing and I do hope at least with this religion that they give themselves the credit they deserve as positive and caring human beings.
Stereotyping is used frequently and this is probably a good thing in many cases. To really make sense of a world with the colossal amount of information and situations that ours bombards us with requires us to simplify, to summarise, to label.
When someone says that they are a Humanist, a Muslim, an American, a Quaker, most would quite instinctively conclude a few things about that person. The straightforward judgements that we make in these simplistic assumptions are wonderfully telling about us individually but may also manifest themselves dangerously when acted upon or used to exert social influence.
Whilst it seems that stereotyping, at least on some level, is something we can’t survive without, it is also something we must be wary of personally. Your job for instance, isn’t just a one sentence description it’s a whole way of life that you know intimately – but you would probably be well advised to avoid discussing in any real detail on social occasions. There are, however, some things that merit further investigation, stripping away the summaries and delving deep into the details – perhaps to further your career, because you are genuinely interested or because you really, actually care. For some, learning about the electronics of their music amplifier is a keen interest, for others learning the latin names of all the plants in their garden fascinates them, for others still watching several football matches every week and discussing players’ performances in depth is a virtual necessity.
For me, this week, it was finding out what the hell a Quaker is.
As part of an extended invite to my local humanist group I attended a meeting intended as an introduction to Quakerism. I’m glad I accepted.
The majority of the meeting was a simple presentation by a superbly personable man named Geoffrey Durham. An obviously intelligent and outwardly passionate individual; this man has a career in stage and theatrical performance (so a very good public speaker) and the other love of his life is Quakerism.
I will attempt to do this impassioned man the justice he deserves by avoiding paraphrasing his descriptions of the Quaker way. He spent a lot of time and effort emphasising that, how and why the Quaker faith is simply not something that can be explained in a tag line, in a single sentence or indeed in a single evening. The importance placed on individuality, on information and discovery and on intellect and positivity was such a refreshing insight into a religious faith. Geoffrey took care to mention that although Quakerism has Christian roots he knows Buddhist-Quakers and non-theist-Quakers (I note that he didn’t say atheist-Quakers – the reason for that I may never get to ask him).
The really heartening statement that some Quakers adhere to their Christian roots and disagree with him, whilst others disagree with them, really helped hit home what this faith is all about. Geoffrey’s description of what he called God was particularly uplifting and although my first reaction was to think it a shame that he referred to such a decisively real, albeit subjective, experience as God, I soon had second thoughts on that. Such a personal experience is his and his alone, describing events that are his and in no way imposing them on me is both satisfying and admirable in a faith based meeting and a presentation by a Christian-Quaker.
My main point of contention arose during the Q&A session towards the end of the meeting when one of the audience members spoke about the recent piece in the Guardian “The Quakers: a religion Richard Dawkins could sign up to”. Geoffrey stated, quite confidently, something along the lines of, Richard Dawkins and/or his ‘followers’ are basically fundamentalists, arrogant, always right, the sort of people with which there is no argument. Now, I could very easily continue with some more details and counter-arguments (any scientist or atheist reading this right now will surely have met this stance before from a believer) and possibly one day should I meet Geoffrey again I may well take issue with his view. For now though I remain satisfied that my limited knowledge of Quakerism and of Geoffrey himself leads me to the conclusion that such a debate would be intelligent, respectful and well-informed whilst possibly fierce and certainly emotionally involved – with someone that would be able to defend his position strongly. A debate well worth having.
And I think that’s the point I’d like to come away with and emphasise above all.
If you want to know about Quakerism I’d recommend reading a book by a Quaker (and yes I bought Geoffrey’s book and am very much looking forward to reading it) or better still going to a meeting. It is all quite involved and you won’t find any simple one word answers (though maybe you’ll find some questions you’d not thought of asking). Above all though this is indeed a faith with which Richard Dawkins would probably not begrudge spending time, they are open to reason and debate whilst respecting the personal and subjective perspective.
I do hope I haven’t done Geoffrey an injustice in anything I’ve said here. If all believers were as open to reason, engaged by discussion, passionate about language and above all as dedicated to humour as he, then the world would most certainly be a better place.
I posted this letter to my MP (Mark Lancaster) today. Please feel free to look up your MP here and do a similar sort of thing, if you like.
House of Commons
I write to you not in order to express my own opinions, rather to reiterate and to support the feelings of Sue Cox, important and impassioned as they are I wish to show my full backing of the emotional and politically relevant views expressed in her open letter to the prime minister.
Of course I understand you have a need to represent all members of your constituency and I in no way expect you to address my humble opinion should I be the only one vocalising it. I also fully understand that you may have all manner of political influences affecting your ability to act.
However, I urge you to take notice of the letter from Sue Cox as I do not believe that I am the only one that agrees with the sentiments it contains. I believe that there are many people willing to stand up for the rights of women, rights of people of any sexual preference, of people of any ethnic origin and indeed to protect the rights of people to follow any faith or perhaps no faith at all.
I agree with Sue Cox’s driven and passionate words and would not be so bold as to try to improve on them myself here. There are huge swathes of people throughout the British population that are frustrated by the imperialist image and actions of the Catholic church and the Vatican.
However, Sue’s letter is about something wholly different, it is addressing the seeming desire for entire governments to bow down to this institution. An institution accused of so much wrongdoing, so many accusations over the decades, so many of which have been shown to be true. There are plenty of people standing against the Vatican.
It is worth considering at this point, who, when our descendants look back, will they see as the forward thinking individuals that stood up. This church will be judged in time, and most likely very harshly indeed, and though it is not the socially acceptable nor politically advisable thing to do right now, the generations to come may well ask themselves how we could have done anything but speak out against the Catholic church.
As I have said, this is only one issue of presumably hundreds that you have to consider and contend with, I will conclude in short by merely saying that David Cameron’s comments of support for the church were indeed an insult to many freethinking British people and it would be jolly nice of him to consider the feelings of those damaged by the church if he won’t speak out against it himself.
I say this only because you have far more influence than I do in making this point to Mr Cameron and so I will leave the matter in your capable hands.
All the best
Sitting behind the wheel of my car cruising along the H3 away from the train station, I find myself considering what my Grandma would say to me if she was sat in the car. How would a conversation with her develop as I told her about my day campaigning for a secular Europe?
At first the police seemed to outnumber the supporters, but it soon became apparent that the numbers were going to grow into the hundreds. A good turnout for a cause that is accelerating the momentum it already has, but a reminder that there is still a fight ahead, most likely a battle of will and attrition.
The placards being handed out were standard, non-offensive and to the point; distributed to those of us that turned up empty handed with the naive view that just being present was enough – not finding the time to individualise your message is a little half-hearted really. Plenty of people had spent time creating some lovely, witty and original banners, others a little less time on some very obvious banners, and others, like me, spent no time making nothing.
The conversations and opinions that wander around this gathering as the crowd meanders through the streets, are always the great and most interesting part of a day like this. A fascinating array of people and a cacophony of opinions bouncing between a large group of delightful, happy and yet driven and opinionated people. My mind drifts briefly to the looting and violence (not rioting or protesting) that took place in this very city a month earlier – and then to the mostly peaceful student march before that, that a small percentage of the population brought disgrace upon. I found myself semi-consciously hoping that wouldn’t happen today, wondering if maybe secularists possessed a kind of intellectual snobbishness that would prevent a descent of this kind. Who the hell am I to say though – what goes, goes.
The various personal placards were an easy topic of conversation; which one’s are clever? Which are inappropriate? These conversations are natural on a day like today – the equivalent of middle-class suburbanites discussing the weather. There was a serious outcome to these conversations though, in that contemplating the appropriateness of a particular message forced casual wanderers to really consider what the day was about – why exactly were we walking along these old London streets. The truth that the nature of those present would inevitably bring an anti-religion feel to a march like this, dawned on me. And some of the placards and messages seemed to reinforce this. The “Law Sharia – Diarrhea” seemed to really drive home that some people had truly missed the overall message of the day.
For me and many others this was not a day for religion bashing – especially not attacking anybody’s core beliefs. Confronting the social implementation of those beliefs – perhaps. Addressing the issue of forcing those beliefs onto others – certainly. But actually making a verbal attack on a person’s faith was not the aim. I make this point not to be a pain in the ass and pick fault with other people’s efforts, but because alienating Muslims or Christians is potentially a hinderance to the cause of the day and not only diluting the message but possibly damaging it. A point made prevalent during another discussion about what practical benefit a religious person would gain by attending the march. What could a religious person possibly reap by the separation of church and state? This was the reason we were all here after all. I looked around in the hope of seeing a few clergymen from some church, waving a banner and campaigning against religious privilege, disappointingly I saw no such group but I still hope that they were there, somewhere.
Surely then this most fundamental argument about freeing church from state, or the other way around, is an argument in favour of religious freedom – I wonder whether it is the dilution of this freedom with the religious loathing of the faithless that had caused so many of the faithful to stay away or not make their identities known? But if there are some religious out there that want religion separated from their country’s government then they should be welcomed to the cause with open arms – rather than having their faith mocked. That being said – there are obvious reasons to stay away but fighting for religious freedom because it’s the right thing should trump all that anyway.
As the crowd of wanderers finally found a resting place opposite Downing Street, a number of passionate speeches over a drearily, inaudible PA system began. The full hour of speeches is here. A particularly impassioned one by Maryam Namazie (21:00 to 28:45) really hit some powerful points about the people living under Sharia in modern day society. There was a particularly well made point about Muslims oppressed by their own religion, they are indeed our allies and possibly one of the most important allies we have. A notion I will take to heart and concentrate on more in the future.
A tall, middle aged man in the crowd was handing out leaflets containing pro-christian, right wing material. A simple 2 page A4, stapled leaflet that looked like just another secularist handing out an advert for their website. I stood straining to hear one of the speakers while trying to scan read this leaflet and suddenly realised what it was promoting. The idea that secularism was actively harmful to society and a whole 2 pages dedicated to ‘proving’ the notion that homosexuality causes peadophilia. Some of the gay community were visibly upset by this material. It was in poor taste and in order to keep the peace the police took the man to one side, away from those obviously affected. No one got angry, no raised voices and no threats from those waving the rainbow flag nor anyone else.
This man’s bigoted views have just as much right to be aired as my own, however ridiculous, offensive or plain ignorant they may be. However, there is no contact detail on the literature, no name nor organisational affiliation, just a string of simply falsifiable ‘facts’, propaganda style writing and citations that I refuse to reprint due to the anonymous nature of the material.
A pity I can’t challenge these views directly, I’m more than willing for someone to express offensive, false or even stupid ideas, but they shouldn’t be immune from criticism nor ridicule. In this case all I can do is discuss the material but make no direct retort – which is simply resolved by defining these previous 3 paragraphs as all I have to say on the matter until I’m challenged by someone willing to put their head above the water – In the meantime I’ll work through the material in my own time as a learning experience.
While walking down Whitehall towards our final standing destination, a cyclist riding past the secularist group stopped his bike in order to read one placard that read “He is not the Messiah, he is a very naughty boy”, with a picture of the pope. The man holding the placard chatted with the now dismounted cyclist for 2 minutes before the young man lifted the barrier and walked along with the rest of us, bike in hand, for the final leg of our journey. How simply satire can inspire. My favourite amusing message though was ‘Beware Of The Dogma’.
What a wonderfully colourful and uplifting day, a vast array of bright personalities, critical and diverse opinions and inspiring strength. A cause well worth all the effort of those involved. A cause worthy of a continued fight and something everyone involved should take a pride in being a part of.